Le Fete de St. Jean & Vin De Noix- Green Walnut Wine
IMG_6145.jpg

No Summer arrives without the bonfire madness, the distant drumming from another century, and the making of a year’s worth of foraged aperitifs. When i first moved here we drank Vin de Noix to start all our meals. gradually the habit of a slightly sweet, slightly bitter aperitif has disappeared. The days of aperitifs made with bitter branches and fruit leaves seems to have been eclipsed by Aperol and Campari spritzes, gin cocktails served with floral tonics, and gallons of cheap rosé.

Home made aperitifs are infused with the feast of St. John follies. Pick those green walnuts and create a little magic. Think mid-summer madness minus the fairies and Shakespeare; add sugar, spices and moonshine to the unripened walnuts. ‘Unripened’ means that under the thick green outer husk, the nut meat and shell are still unformed, a juicy white tannic miracle growing on heavy laden branches.

For me, noix verts herald the long days of looking at Camont’s fruit and nut trees, gardens and potagers as a living larder. White peaches for ice cream, summer pears for jam, blackberries and raspberries for liqueurs. But it is this very first recipe I learned to make at the hands of Claude and Vetou Pompele some 25 years ago that reminds me of my most important job here at the Gascon Kitchen– hands-on teacher of artisan culinary traditions. So I am resuming my role this year as Chief Aperitif Influencer.

The walnut tree has been growing for over the 30 years I have lived at Camont. It was a leggy 12-foot sapling when I first spared its life. Now it reaches up over 40 feet and spreads a deep shade for the lambs, chickens and us. More squirrel-planted trees have sprouted and have added to the bounty. I once used the bottle of eau de vie made by old man Dupuy over 40 years ago. A gift from his daughter, Monique,  I had tucked it away in the back of the boat cellar a few years back. Antique moonshine. Now I look for small batch eau de vie when at country markets, but a bottle of any clear alcohol will work as well.

This recipe was taught to me by Claude Pompele. I published it in “A Culinary Journey in Gascony”. There is a new story somewhere but for now this has been a story in the making for a long time.

Vin de Noix

Traditionally made on June 24, the Feast of St. Jean

  • 24 green walnuts plus a handful of walnut leaves.

  • 24 sugar cubes

  • 750ml eau de vie

  • 3 liters of inexpensive rosé wine

  • a handful of lemon rinds

  • Nutmeg shards, cloves and cardamon to taste

Smash the green walnuts with a rock. Work outside on an old board. Wear aprons and gloves.

Place all the ingredients in an earthen ware crock, glass jar, or stainless steel bucket.

Cover with an old plate. It will turn very dark from the tannins in the green husks.

Let sit 24 days.

Filter, bottle and drink at your leisure in the cold short winter days. Aging the aperitif longer results in a more dense and flavorful apertif.

Serve in small glasses as guests arrive. Don’t ask them. Just serve it. They will find it strange and scary. Insist they take small sips and think of Mid-summer in France. Maybe play a little medieval music in the background. Let a walnut tree grow. Take some time to think about the seasons. I make this for my Summer born friends- Elaine, Bill, Julie, Woody, Randy, and all the other Cancers in my Sagittarius life.

Make that Tomato Tart now! + All Butter Pastry
Kate’s famous Tomato Tart means Summer season has started!

Kate’s famous Tomato Tart means Summer season has started!

This is my very simple, everyday, anyonecanmakethis Pâte Brisée or a Short Crust- my go to All-Butter Pastry. I teach this to all students who come through Camont’s kitchen doors. It breaks the usual prissy pastry rules about chilling flour, butter and water. It is a forgiving sort of crust, a classic French pâte brisée perfect for everything from summery fruit tarts to the savory tarte a la tomates that we shared with good friend David Lebovitz.

It’s easy. Be not afraid of pastry. It will be delicious and your friends will love you and your French tartes.

Kate’s Easy Tart Pastry


200 g or 1 1/2 cups all purpose or pastry flour
100 g or 4  ounces unsalted butter straight from the refrigerator. Cut into cubes
a pinch of salt
1 large egg
2-3 tablespoons cold water as needed.

Preheat the oven to 200ºC or 400ºF . The oven should be very hot to seize the pastry to hold its shape.
1. Make the dough by mixing the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the butter cubes and use your hands to break in the butter by smashing the butter with your fingers into the flour. Continue until the mixture has a crumbly, cornmeal-like texture. This can be very uneven; leave some bits of butter still visible.
2. Make a well in the center of the flour/butter mix and break the whole egg into the center. Add 1 tablespoon of the water. Beaten the egg and water a bit in the well then mix all together stirring the mixture until the dough holds together. If it’s not coming together easily, add additional water.
3. Gather the dough into a ball and roll the dough on a generously floured surface, adding additional flour only as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the counter. This is a soft dough, so handle lightly.
4. Roll out. Once the dough is large enough so that it will cover the bottom of the pan and go up the sides, roll the dough around the rolling pin then unroll it over the tart pan. Prick the bottom of the pastry with your fingertips a few times, pressing in to make indentations. Who needs a fork?

You can then brush the pastry base with an egg if you like, sprinkle with sugar or just fill and bake. How long? Depending on the filling about 25-35 minutes.

Tomato Tart Filling

  • Tomatoes enough to fill your tart pan

  • one egg

  • Dijon mustard

  • olive oil

  • fresh herbs chopped finely

  • salt & pepper

  1. After rolling out the pastry, brush it with a beaten egg mixed with mustard and set aside to dry. This is a little secret to avoid a soggy bottom.

  2. Then cut very good ripe tasty tomatoes into thick slices.

  3. Lay the slices over the mustardy bottom fitting them tightly across the tart.

  4. Drizzle with some olive oil and then sprinkle with fresh herbs (chives, thyme, basil, lovage, oregano, whatever). Salt and pepper to taste.

  5. Bake in a hot oven 200’C or 400’F for 30-45 minutes, until the bottom of the pastry is well browned.

The Round Days at Camont
IMG_5665.jpg

The days are long. Longer now.  And each step toward midsummer, that June Solstice date, is measured in sunsets and early mornings. This is when the words of French writer, Jean Giono (1914-1970?) ring in my ears again—the days are round not long.

It starts with the sun rising early, just after 6:00, on the other side of the canal. It circles south and high across the early summer sky. It’s still raining and cool this year but the light tells me it is fully summer. The sun will set at 9:40 after it crosses the canal again, making a beacon of late light mirrored in a ribbon stretch of still water.

Days begin and end in the dead of night. They are not shaped long, in the manner of things which lead to ends - arrow, road, man’s life on earth. They are shaped round, in the manner of things eternal and stable - sun, world, God.
— Jean Giono - Les Rondeurs des Jours

At Camont that means that I am planting vegetables to eat through the late summer when friends appear, when cooking students arrive. Again. The potager is a grid of raised beds that circle through the seasons with some perennial herbs like lovage, sage, rosemary, and mint; some overgrown weeds that by May give way to some seeds and plants; repeated flowering of borage and nigella to scatter a bit of blue across the gravel drifts; and berry canes finally giving enough fruit to harvest to add to a pot or two of jam. The grid helps me keep track. I can count on these stragglers to come around each summer. Round again.

The longer days do circle back to other years, too. When there was jumping into the canal on a hot day with a plastic float of Cuba Libras attached to the barge( 1997); when the Midsummer fete meant a bright bonfire and a large group of friends for a lamb roast and armagnac late into the night (2004); and further back when this house was just a stone and brick shell and I talked about how it was going to look- fixed up and with a garden gate(1989). Seems like yesterday. But thirty years blink by. And now the gate supports a tangle of climbing roses- a bouffant pink and white Pierre Ronsard and an old cream-colored scented rose whose name I have lost.

Round days happen in my kitchen, too. It’s time to pluck a few squash blossoms and add them to an omelette made with courgettes, a way of acknowledging the flower and the fruit together. I put the straw hats and flowers in the hearth in an offhand homage to Roy Andrie de Groot and that far away Auberge of the Flower Hearth which remains an inspiration of French cookbooks. I cook once a day, either for lunch or dinner, letting us graze on les rests so that distractions from work are a pleasure. The tomato tarts make their appearance one by one, then in a flurry for a cooking class where everyone learns to make the simplest of my French butter pastry. Radishes pop up overnight and their greens are a peppery substitute for watercress in a cold or hot soup (see below). Then the June making of Vin de Noix is celebrated with whomever is visiting that week of the Solstice and the Fête de la Musique. We’ll make that soon, so stay tuned!

So I leave you with these few June dishes to make. Want to come to France and cook with me? Shop at the market? Sit at the table and talk stories? There’s a lot of ways to do that. Sign up for the newsletter here at the bottom of this page and then join me every week and on your favorite social media habits—Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. I’ll post a recipe on Instagram stories soon, too. Radish Pannacotta, anyone?

IMG_5778.jpg

This recipe is from my first book- A Culinary Journey in Gascony (1995 copyright)

Radish Leaf Soup

  • 1 bunch firm radishes with the fresh bright greens attached

  • 1 tablespoon sweet butter

  • 1 onion chopped finely

  • 2 cloves garlic minced or crushed

  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

  • A bit of fresh grated nutmeg

  • 2 whole potatoes, peeled and diced

  1. Separate the radishes from the greens and set aside.

  2. Wash the greens well. Don’t bother draining.

  3. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan.

  4. Add the chopped onion and garlic then cook over a low heat until they are soft and translucent.

  5. Add the whole wet radish leaves to the pan and let wilt.

  6. Add the chopped potatoes and salt then cover with 1 liter of water.

  7. Increase the heat and bring to a boil.

  8. Cook for 20 minutes or so, until the potatoes are very soft and start to fall apart.

  9. Remove from heat. Puree with a hand mixer or pass through a food mill.

  10. Adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper as desired.

  11. Serve hot with tartines of sweet butter and sliced radishes

  12. Or chill and serve cold with a dollop of crème fraîche.

Kate HillComment
Eating French Flowers in May- Acacia Blossom Fritters
IMG_2521.jpg

That night image of Camont, stars hanging overhead and a warm golden glow from an empty bedroom, lacks one thing. Scent. I needed a perfume atomizer to send to each viewer. One filled with a soft sweet smell of Acacia trees heavy with white blossoms swaying in the night breeze like so many small silver thuribles diffusing their May incense.

The old custom of making a sweet blossom fritter dredged in sugar or drizzled with acacia honey is yet another way of creating a living calendar. Eating flowers in May is the festive beginning of the Deep Spring Season. Acacias and elderflowers appear at the same time; roses are next, and the violas and pansies that nod little heads are delicate colored memories of winter.

Acacias 2019.jpeg

I dreamt of the first time I witnessed my old acacia trees abuzz with a floating hive and Vétou taught me to make her ultra-light batter first. And then which bunches of tightly closed blossoms to gather—those that still contained their nectar still hidden from the bees. These are golden fried bunches of flowers eaten off the stems like grapes; a rustic celebration of something special before the fruit arrives.

Now, after a week of French pastry at Camont with Molly Wilkinson, I jumped to a new version of this classic country treat— a small cloud-like fritter made with an eggy batter that would bind a handful of blossoms and allow us to fill it with some floral scented chantilly or slightly sweetened whipped cream. Like a classic Pet de Nonne, these became floral puffs made with a pâte à choux recipe from Molly Wilkinson’s Art of French Pastry workshops at Camont. This batch makes a fat dozen small but delicious bites.

Acacia Blossom Fritters

  • 65 ml water

  • 65 ml milk

  • 50 gr butter

  • 5 gr sugar

  • 1 gr salt

  • 75 g all purpose flour (T55)

  • 100-125 g whole eggs (2-3 eggs)

  • handful of edible acacia blossoms- stems removed

  • frying oil- 1-2 inch deep

  • some acacia honey

  • powdered sugar

In a saucepan, add the water, milk, butter, sugar and salt. Measure the flour. Heat the liquid ingredients over a low heat until just simmering and the butter melts.

Take off the heat and add all the flour at once. stir with a wooden spoon until the dough pulls together. Put back on heat and stir continuously for 1-2 minutes until the dough pulls away from the side. transfer to a mixing bowl. mix until the dough starts to cool- and is no longer steaming.

Add the eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each one before adding the next. When ready, check the dough by seeing how it falls from the spoon. It should be silky smooth and fall in a point. Stir in a handful of closed acacia blossoms; the nectar is still inside the flower.

Heat the oil in a wok or a deep pan to 170-180’C. Drop batter in the hot oil by a tablespoon and cook until golden brown and cooked through. Don’t rush them. The inside will be soft and airy. Drain on a paper towel and then drizzle with acacia honey and powdered sugar.

Serve warm and with a glass of elderflower soda. Another Spring treat!

FullSizeRender 8.jpg
Kate Hill
Spring green Garlic & Duck Sandwich
Peppery Green Radish tops are perfect in a salad

Peppery Green Radish tops are perfect in a salad

Spring remains elusive in so many parts of North America, but here in France, especially in the Southwest, it has arrived like the TGV fast train in the Gare d’Agen- at full speed and then slamming on the brakes. One day it is cold enough to huddle by the wood stove; the next I am outside in a t-shirt arranging the garden. Now after three solid weeks of luxurious sunny and warm days, the dreaded Giboulées de Mars have arrived.

The Giboulées are the Lion in the old adage—“March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb”. High winds upended the sturdy bistro chairs in the garden; heavy rains battered the skylight above my bed too early this morning; hail comes knock the fragile blossoms off the plum trees; umbrellas and market stalls are sent sailing across the market squares. That’s March for you. Waiting for the Lamb to take over, means weathering change in my kitchen, too.

Fresh Spring Garlic Shoots-  Aillets

Fresh Spring Garlic Shoots- Aillets

This unpredictable weather engenders another sort of upheaval. I begin to liberate myself from slow winter cooking—my beloved braised meats and slow-roasted vegetables. I crave the first peppery greens like the new root radishes we eat with creamy spring butter. I want a Spring Soup—not long simmering but quick and fresh and full of life and sprinkled with a crunch of seeded croutons. And most of all I am craving spring duck, those thick red meat steaks called magrets grilled on the stove top, then served under a verdant blanket of fresh green onions, tender aillets (those first green garlic shoots), pickled guindilla peppers, and the first new mint leaves from my sleeping garden. It takes just minutes to cook, and chopping the greens happens at the same time. Put it all on a thick toasted slab of pain de campagne with crisp slices from a head of Sucrine lettuce drizzled with some walnut vinegar and sunflower oil.

Here, I used the same combination of spring onions, green garlic, guindillas along with some roquette leaves and white beans, a drizzle of oil, coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. It couldn’t be simpler and so deliciously Spring!

Spring Greens and White Bean salad

Spring Greens and White Bean salad

Cooking like this reflects the seasons-the global turning of the days, but also my own personal season of renewal, a time to reassess my direction-both in the kitchen and out. I am busy on projects, finishing old one, starting new ones. I cook to reflect the Spring frenzy of ideas that pushing out of a quiet restful winter. I eat with gusto and savor the new tastes—sharper, lighter, fresher.

One big Spring idea is to start teaching more online, using new resources to share the good food of Gascony with you. Cooking classes, shopping advice, travel tips all wrapped up in a personal package of videos, ebooks, and in person gatherings. If you are interested in being part of a pilot project, make sure to sign up for here.

Kate Hill
A Sweet Omelet Soufflé
omelette-souflee.jpg

I have been talking about chickens and eggs a lot these days on Instagram, both on the Grid and in my Stories. My morning ritual begins when I open the henhouse doors just after sunrise; I begin talking to the girls as I get about 20 feet away. All is quiet then they begin to talk back to me. Or to each other. It is a musical soft chirping rather than cartoon clucking and the message I hear is “We’ve been waiting for you!”.

So letting the chickens out into the yard, making sure they have food then gathering their eggs all happens in a sweet state of slow wakefulness. At this time of year there are 4-6 eggs daily from the 7 hens each week; that’s about three dozen fresh free-range organic eggs a week. Spring hasn’t even hit yet.

Here’s an old favorite- a recipe that uses eggs in abundance. Serve it on a weekend breakfast or finish off a simple supper as dessert, but only make this if you have great eggs. Like all simple recipes, the basic ingredient must be fabulous—fresh eggs, good butter, homemade preserves. Think of this more rustic version instead of a classic bourgeois soufflé when you next have more eggs than you can use. Served with fruit preserves or any sweet sauce, this cloud of deeply golden eggs is easy enough to do for yourself or a large crowd. The recipe below serves about four; I count 1.5 to 2 eggs per person.

6-eggs-w-numbers.jpg

Les Oeufs Nuageux or Egg Clouds

  • One Tablespoon sweet butter

  • 6 Fresh Eggs

  • 3 Tablespoons fine white sugar

Heat oven to 400’F or 200’C.  Place a tablespoon of butter in a pie pan or oven proof clay dish. Place in hot oven until the butter melts. In the meantime make your omelet.

Take 6 very fresh eggs. Separate whites from yolks into 2 clean bowls. Yes, those yolks are really that color! happy chickens.

  1. Whisk 3 Tablespoons sugar into yolks. Whisk until sugar is dissolved and yolks are ribbony.

  2. Whisk egg whites in copper bowl.

  3. Whisk eggs until they form a strong peak.

  4. Mix a large spoon full of whipped whites into the egg yolks; then pour yolks onto whites.

  5. Fold the whites into the yolks. Gently. A few ribbons of white in the gold is fine.

Pour eggs into the hot pan or dish and return it to the hot oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes (depending on thickness) until just set. My finger-deep omelette took close to 30 minutes. A thinner one might take just 15 min. Keep an eye on the oven! I served this melt-in-your-mouth Sunday breakfast with some hot compote des pommes (applesauce) and marmalade covered toast. Perfect. Enjoy!


La Croustade aux Pommes
IMG_6829.jpg

La Croustade. Think crusty, crunchy, and sugary pastry. Aux Pommes. Think juicy, sweet, and acidy apples. This is the one sweet Gascon recipe you need to know when you are at home or traveling. With only 6 ingredients and a hot oven needed, you can turn this bébé out in a few minutes, pop it into the oven for 30 min, and then sit back and rest on your French laurels.

For this version of a flaky and butter rich pastry I turned to my old French books for the basics of a puff pastry. Then I did a little internet search. My friend Lucy Vanel of Plum Lyon popped up all over the place for a simpler version of the classic puff pastry- a recipe for a ‘Fast Feuilletage’ or rough puff pastry. I knew that this was the perfect jumping off point. Read Lucy’s original recipe here. After several test drives, I reduced the butter a bit to make my croustade pastry as simple as I could- equal parts flour and butter, water and a pinch of salt. The filling is half a dozen great apples with a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon and a splash of armagnac. Ready. Set. Go!

La Croustade aux Pommes

Rough Puff Pastry

  • 300 gr flour + extra for rolling

  • 1 generous pinch of salt

  • 300 gr unsalted butter (note:European butter is higher in butterfat)

  • 150 ml cold water

  • 100 gr white granulated sugar

Apple Filling

  • 6 sweet, juicy, and tart apples. Try old baking varieties: Jonagold, Winesap, Macintosh, Newton Pippin, etc.

  • 50 gr. white granulated sugar

  • A generous sprinkle of cinnamon

  • Optional: A generous splash of armagnac (brandy, calvados, rum, etc)Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl.

  1. Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl.

  2. Using a small knife or your fingers, break the butter into chunks. and add to the flour. Using your fingers, work the butter into the flour and salt leaving lots of different sized pieces- from almond size to peas to lentils. This should be a very coarse mixture.

  3. Make a well in the flour and butter and add the cold water. Mix quickly with a large spoon until you can form a ball. The pastry will be very soft. Feel free to add more water as needed.

  4. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board or surface and knead just enough to form a smooth ball.

  5. Roll the dough out into a rectangle about 1 cm or 1/2″inch thick. Make sure to use enough extra flour for the board.

  6. Fold the rectangle into thirds; roll out into another rectangle; fold the rectangle into thirds; repeat two more times. This is an easy version of puff pastry.

  7. Cut the last rectangle in half using one half for the top and one half for the bottom. Roll the bottom half out until it is 6 mm or 1/4″- place on a half sheet or cookie pan lined with parchment paper.

  8. Roll out the top and let it rest while you add the filling.

  9. Peel and thinly slice apples (1cm or 1/4″)

  10. Mix sugar, cinnamon, and armagnac together. Let sit while you roll out and shape the dough.

  11. Place the apple filling in a thin layer across on the surface of the bottom pastry then cover with the top pastry.

  12. Fold the bottom edges up over the top edge and crimp. Brush with a whole egg wash. Dust heavily with white sugar. (Note: expect that there will be sugary juicy leaks that run out and around the pan. This is delicious!)

  13. Bake at 200’C or 400’F for 30 minutes or until very golden brown.

  14. As soon as you can handle the pan, slide the whole croustade off of the parchment and onto a wooden cutting board. This helps keep the bottom pastry from getting soggy as the steam escapes into the more porous wood.

  15. Let cool, cut into big squares, and serve with crème fraîche, vanilla ice cream, or a drizzle of salted butter caramel.

Give this a try all you recipe testers and let me know how it turns out. You can substitute other seasonal fruit like pears or plums. Take a picture, Instagram it, and tag me @katedecamont.

There is a second croustade in this part of France- a Croustade Gasconne and is made with very fine layers of pulled pastry dough, apples and armagnac. If you want to learn how to make both these special regional desserts, join Molly Wilkinson and me for a 5 day Sweet Pastry Adventure at Camont.

The Croustade Gasconne or Pastis Gascon

The Croustade Gasconne or Pastis Gascon

Kate Hill
Winter Soup: Lean Leek Soup
IMG_8816.jpg

Living a seasonal life is relative to where you live. After a young life of living in tropical and aseasonal Hawaii and later along the moderated Mediterranean California coast, I fumbled into the oceanic influenced four seasons of Southwest France. Here at Camont, my days are very much dictated by the seasonal flow from a mild and wet winter to a wetter and warmer spring, through the hot and sunny summer months and circling into an extended autumn that gradually cools down and back to winter again. Eh Voila, les Quatre Saisons!

My four French seasons are most reflected around the house and in my kitchen. Although I remain delighted with Spring and the festive social Summer months, it is now in the middle of Winter that I feel the slow turning circle the most. I hang heavy brocade curtains over the drafty doors, stack the split wood under a dry cover, and gather kindling for the morning fires. Extra duvets are piled on the foot of the beds; the laying hens are let out of their cozy coop after my first cup of coffee; and I make sure to feed the flitting songbirds and paired tourterelles that flock to the seeds and fat balls that hang from the fruit trees. This preoccupation about feeding extends into my kitchen, of course.

The holidays are over, at last. Everyone, at least the media, is concerned about starting afresh, or watching their weight and getting off to a healthy new year. I’m no different but I miss the large and orchestrated meals of festive summer and the grand school lunches we prepare during cooking courses. I actually cook less in the winter months, but with more restraint. Like this very lean leek soup I made yesterday. The idea of something put on to simmer all day can be a mythic goal. What about a simple soup that only needs to cook for 30 minutes are so? Something without a rich stock, or the the heavy cream and butter of the holidays?

Every season is Soup Season in Southwest France. When I first came to France, every meal I ate in a rural French home featured soup- breakfast, lunch or supper. Today, French families still gather to souper in the evenings or at grand-mère’s house for Sunday lunch. Passing a tureen around the table or one person standing to ladle the soup plates-those flat rimmed bowls-is a familial way to eat together. This Simple and Lean Leek Soup will start off your Winter cooking season like a savoury tonic.

Let’s start at the market. No French Winter market is complete without bunches of beautifully blanched leeks with long white stems and deep green leaves. The classics—Leeks Gratin, Poireaux Vinaigrette, and even the fancy sounding Vichyssoise, are nothing more than a simple tribute to this sweet allium. One of the first soups I learned to make in France, it is easy to cook just a couple servings, at least enough for two and a bowl leftover. Someone told me they find leeks sliced, washed and frozen in their supermarket. So, whichever way you go, fresh or frozen, think of this simple soup as beginning of a meal or the simple accompaniment for an omelette. For my Southern hemisphere friends, just chill this soup, add a dollop of crème fraîche, and some chopped chives when you serve it. eh voila!

Simple & Lean Leek Soup

500 grams or one pound of sliced, washed leeks

2 tablespoon oil- olive, canola, sunflower safflower

1 liter or quart water

1-2 bay leaves

salt to taste

walnut oil to garnish

hot sauce- optional

sliced pickled peppers to garnish

Put the oil in a 2-4 litre/quart saucepan.

After slicing and washing the leeks, add the leeks to the pan and turn on the heat.

Stir the leeks and oil until they are well coated and then add the water.

Add the bay leaves and let simmer 30 minutes until the leeks are very tender.

Remove the bay leaves and using a stick blender or blender puree the soup. (Oops, I forgot to do this yesterday and there were dark green strings and chips in the soup!)

Add enough salt to taste, but don’t over power the sweet leeks with too much salt.

Garnish the soup with some chopped up guindillas or pickled peppers, a drizzle of walnut or other nut oil, and splash of your favorite hot sauce and a cracking of fresh black pepper.

I avoid using a strong stock as the sweet leeks are enough to flavor the broth.

Kate Hill
Sweet Potato & Quince Pie with a Cornmeal Butter Pastry
IMG_7276.jpg

Pie. Why bake Pie? In my book, (that big imaginary volume called “The Big Camont Cookbook”) Pie or the French version-une tarte- is the most rewarding of all treats. The smell of the baking butter, the pastry crunch, the butter, the slightly sweet and soft texture of cooked fruit, and the perfectly happy butter pastry crust are reward enough for a short time spent in the kitchen.

This sweet pie, essentially a classic sweet potato pie, was created for a dinner of friends last week. In my last minute ‘let’s make it happen’ madness, I consulted a few online recipes and then made my own path. I roasted some sweet potatoes (amazingly grown in my own garden this summer!) and tossed in the last remaining quince from the fruit bowl. I hate that things go to waste, that there is one small, measly, remaining-something-from-a-large bowl. I always try to use up the last lemon, the lone apple, the meager bunch of carrots bought last week. So along with the potatoes that I cut in halves and placed face down on a sheet pan, I placed the halved quince as well to roast.

IMG_7257.JPG

When asked to tell why I do what I do, what makes me get up every morning, or why I bother to write this all down, I think of something as simple as that gesture of placing the last quince in the pie. Almost instinctual, a learned habit of looking at what’s around me, I enjoy the process of thinking how one added new element elevates this simple recipe found on a thousand sites and in as many kitchens this Thanksgiving season.

Making a recipe your own happens easily when you stock your kitchen with thoughtful products. Two of the four quince I bought at the market became part of a kale salad that John D. made when he was cheffing his way around my kitchen all last month. One quince got poached in a light syrup and has been steeping in the fridge; I will now add that to the some holiday chutney. And that last quince that I baked alongside the sweet potatoes added just enough perfumed plus to the filling. Other than using an already open 14 oz. can of condensed milk (with enough sugar for my taste) I add no additional sugar. What a happy accident!

The summer sweet potatoes and the quince, brightened with a squeeze of lemon, a splash of armagnac/vanilla extract (I make my own), and a couple farm fresh eggs were enough a perfect marriage. I added some fine cornmeal to the flour and butter to make a slightly more textured and nutty crust. Soon this pie was my own—inspired by tradition and elaborated by my own touch to create a dense rich dessert as festive as my table.

Although I didn’t ‘follow’ a recipe, I do make note of my ingredients. Give this a whirl and add your own touches!

IMG_7267.JPG

Sweet Potato & Quince Pie

Recipe for one pie

All butter cornmeal crust:

  • 150 gr all-purpose flour

  • 100 gr fine cornmeal flour

  • 125 sweet butter, torn into small pieces

  • a pinch of salt

  • 1 egg for egg wash

Mix all the ingredients except the egg together, roll out, and place in a deep dish pie pan or terra cotta gratin pan like I use. Make a fluted edge high enough to hold the filling. Brush with egg wash and let dry while preparing the filling

Sweet Potato and Quince FIlling

  • sweet potatoes - two-3 very large potatoes- about 1.5 kilo or 3 lbs. Roasted until soft and peel removed

  • 1 or 2 quince, apple, or pear. Roasted until soft and cored and peeled

  • 1 can evaporated milk

  • 2-3 eggs

  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

  • 1 tablespoon of “The Secret” flavoring* or good vanilla extract

    Mix all of the ingredients together and whisk or blend together until smooth.

    Pour into pastry crust and bake in an moderate oven at 350’ for 45-55 min until the filling is set and barely jiggly. Let cool or refrigerate overnight, serve with whipped cream, ice cream, or crème fraîche. Enjoy and give thanks!

    *Steep some vanilla beans in armagnac, add some rum, and orange flower water. Let sleep together for awhile. Eh Voila- Le Secret!

Kate Hill
Pruneaux + Armagnac = Magic Gascony
IMG_6870.JPG

Like a magical breath of fresh air, this sweet finish—a perfect Pruneaux and Armagnac Soufflé— transformed our Sunday lunch into a classic French cliché. The hours passed at the table with good companionable friends began with aperitifs (Pousse Rapiere for all!) rolled into remarkable local wines, amuse bouches, fanciful starters, and precisely prepared main courses followed multiple desserts. It truly was Classic Gascony!

I began thinking about why this photograph, admittedly not the best I’ve ever taken, whetted so many people’s appetites? Was it a nostalgic wave for the 80’s soufflés I remember? Maybe the darling Limoges porcelain and paper doily presentation? The dollop of creamy golden ice cream settling into the hot puff of edible air?

No, I believe it was the magic combination of two words that push people over the edge. Pruneaux. And. Armagnac.

IMG_5120.JPG

Prunes d’ente

The prunes d’ente (grafted plumes) date to the Crusaders who returned with them from Syria to be planted in the monasteries of the Lot Valley. Once cooked and dried they are transformed into pruneaux or prunes. Not only a delicious dried fruit, they are used in regional cooking and often paired with meats, game, poultry and used in sweets.

IMG_5555.JPG

Armagnac

I remember when a sage distiller once told me “Armagnac loves silence.” I think of that invisible ingredient each time open a vintage bottle that someone has carefully kept for 40 years or more in the silent chais of Gascony. I think of that when I add a measure of the distilled wine to my recipes. Like a secret ingredient, too, Armagnac adds the depth of candied fruit and floral perfume, cacao and vanilla aromes, pear, tobacco leaf, and prunes. And that is why the Gascon marriage of prunes and Armagnac stands the test of time. Shhh. Remember, Armagnac likes it quiet.

I keep thinking about how French cooking differs from other cuisines. Not better. Different. I have learned this preparing many hundreds of meals at Camont. The two elements that define French cuisine, especially Gascony cooking, are restraint and celebration. Cooking with armagnac begs for restraint whereas I add the golden fleshed sweet prunes with abandon and celebrate the simple fruit. These two ingredients as well as the approach are a good match and compliment so many dishes- Lapin aux Pruneaux is gently flamed with a Hors d’Age blend, a splash of fruity Colombard Brut livens the plums for that special soufflé, and a tulip glass of vintage 1970’s Armagnac warms in your hand over a long conversation after dinner. Interested in learning to cook with Armagnac and Prunes? Sign up for a week of Classic Gascony Cooking Classes in 2019. Bookings now open here.

Hungry for French Prunes? Try these.

Kate Hill
Inspiration revealed.
clouds & wheat Plus.jpg

Recently I asked some of my guests what was the most surprising thing of their Insider’s Gascony week. Was it the abundance of good food? Or the little know and fabulous Côte de Gascogne wines? The magic of Armagnac we saw being made and bottled? The delightful picturesque stone villages of Gascony? No. They had one answer.

It Is So Beautiful Here!

Why was I surprised? I know how lovely the French countryside is. I know that from the mid-19th Century painters of the Barbizon School of Landscape Art through the Impressionists of the Late 19th-Century and right into the Instagrammable 21st Century, the rolling seas of blonde wheat and vibrant sunflower fields bordered by dark green forests have defined the French Countryside to a fault. Does it look like a postcard? Yes. But beauty is not a cliché.

So why was I surprised? I know how lovely it is here—spring, summer, fall, and winter. But somehow in all the things I write, the food I cook, and the photographs I post, I forgot to tell this led this group of four well-traveled souls to expect beauty. I have failed miserably!

So I take this as little reminder and invite you, too, to look up and out as you search for your next culinary inspiration. Check the weather by looking at the clouds and the direction of the wind instead of at an App. Take an extra moment to pull off the little two lane roads and look, really look at the rows of freshly furrowed soil. Image what will be planted next after the harvest of dry rattling cornstalks. And share that.

Create those connections between soil and seed, and the food that is harvested just for you to buy at the weekly markets. Gather in the seasons into your own kitchens and celebrate the turning from one delightful expression of summer to the first drawing in around the Autumnal fires.

I’ll try to remind you more. And to also remind you that a trip to Camont to sook through the seasons is an investment in your own memory bank. Taste spring as it jumps from your market basket to our table and we celebrate another great season in the Kitchen at Camont. 2019 Class are booking now.

This photograph was taken 10 minutes from Camont on a June day in 2018.

Kate Hill
Honey from a Weed
Snapseed 8.jpg

“In the time of the Lion…” begins one of the evocative passages about summer food collected from around the Mediterranean by the late writer and artist Patience Gray in her vintage autobiographical cookbook ‘Honey From A Weed’. This August, I’ve been dipping in and out of her world reading about, and then cooking, the simple foods of Catalunya, Puglia, and Tuscany. Written in the 60’s and 70’s when Ms. Gray and her husband sculptor Norman Mommens lived in the rough outcroppings of rural villages never far from the Mediterranean Sea, and published originally in 1986 the book is like a good vintage shop of foods and meals, esoteric ingredients, and the everyday familiar foods. It is this August summer bounty from markets and gardens that inspires a feast of paella that I cooked for friends here at Camont.

In a story about some time spent in Vendrell near Tarragona, Spain, Gray describes an outside kitchen where Anita, the Catalan cook who inspired Irving Davis to begin his landmark collection of recipes; she later edited these recipes after his death in 1967 in A Catalan Cookery Book: a collection of impossible recipes, 1969.

“Beyond the fountain and the Papyrus plants stands an old fig tree which casts a dense shade at midday over a table made of old maiolica tiles, and further is an outdoor kitchen, its hearth built against the high wall for grilling and nearby a charcoal installation.”

My own outside kitchen, shaded by a lacy acacia tree has a Portuguese beehive oven, a Spanish grill, and a French gas tripod. It is often the inspiration for a certain kind of meal; one that I like to cook where friends can gather, move, and work around the outside tables in the garden. Who knows, maybe they'll do some weeding? Whoever does show up first gets put to work so-Colin soon has a fire going; Julia and Maurine set up the bar and apéros of house-made Spanish style vermouth, gin-tonics, and the ubiquitous icy cold rosé; Justine and Vicky make the salad and laugh at my brocante salad spinner; Steph arranges the dishes and a pile of serviettes; Steve sorts out the chairs, and in between talking and catching up, I make Anita's Paella.

The Paella recipe is on page 84 of Honey from a Weed, a simple one page explanation that is easy enough for even a beginner to follow. I left out the meat and chicken this time and used all fresh seafood: shrimp, prawns, mussels, and langoustines. Using 100 grams of rice per person and 2 liters of broth made from the shrimp heads and shells, some little fish, and seasoning, there was ample servings for seconds all the way around. The rice only takes 20 minutes to cook over the hot fire, and gets a nice crusty edge where it hits the flames.

Here’s a little slide show of making Paella in the Outside Kitchen at Camont.

For more information about Patience Gray and her cooking, join me on Facebook as I moderate the Saveur Magazine Cookbook Club this month and read the book, make the recipes and meet like-minded cooks. I’ll also be posting recipes and other inspirations from Catalunya next week on my Instagram Stories. Intrigued and want to know more about Patience Gray and her books? Read Adam Federman's great biography Fasting and Feasting: the Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray. All books availabe here.

IMG_1244.JPG
Kate Hill